Audubon Settlement Improves Protections for Golden Eagles in California’s Altamont Pass

Important concessions will reduce risks to birds while allowing for wind energy development needed to act on climate.
Golden Eagle. Photo: Rodrigo Izquierdo/Audubon Photography Awards

This month, the National Audubon Society, Golden Gate Audubon Society, Mount Diablo Audubon Society, Ohlone Audubon Society, and Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society (collectively, “Audubon”) settled litigation challenging the approval of a new wind turbine facility in California’s Altamont Pass. Located just east of the Bay Area, the Altamont Pass is home to the densest nesting population of Golden Eagles in the world, and it’s also one of the largest wind energy resource areas in the United States. The settlement achieves improved protections for Golden Eagles and other birds while allowing the wind project to remain economically viable and proceed with construction.

Audubon supports responsibly sited renewable energy projects with necessary environmental review and mitigation, and this project did not meet that standard. For decades, wind projects approved by Alameda County have been an unabated source of mortality for Golden Eagles in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area. Audubon tried to work with Alameda County to balance wind development with wildlife impacts, but after they ignored concerns raised by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Audubon California and Bay Area chapters, and other independent scientists about the project’s impacts, Audubon was forced to file the lawsuit in 2021

As part of this settlement, the project developer Brookfield Renewable will implement adaptive management measures that minimize and mitigate negative impacts to eagles and other birds. This includes limiting annual mortality of Golden Eagles to no more than four per year after an initial period of three years. Over that number, a heavy fine per eagle mortality would be imposed, payable directly to an organization or agency engaged in eagle conservation. Alameda County also committed to making better efforts to solicit input on proposed projects from its independent technical experts before approving new projects in the future. 

We’re hopeful that this settlement will significantly reduce risks to Golden Eagles and lay the groundwork for Alameda County to listen to scientists, wildlife agencies, conservationists, and its own technical advisory committee before approving projects. “This is a big step forward in realizing the commitment to sustainable management of the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area,” said Glenn Phillips, executive director of Golden Gate Audubon Society. “The county’s procedural changes will enable a better decision-making process for the remaining projects, and Brookfield has demonstrated that they will take strong measures to ensure that these new technologies are effective.”

Climate change threatens more than two-thirds of North America’s bird species with extinction, and renewable energy is an important part of protecting them by reducing carbon pollution and slowing the rise of global temperatures. At Audubon California and across the network, we strongly believe that projects can be well-planned, properly sited, and include robust mitigation and adaptive management measures to minimize impacts to wildlife and habitats as we increase renewable energy output. We will continue advocating for responsibly planned projects that are needed to avoid further worsening climate impacts for people and birds.

More about Audubon’s policy on renewable energy can be found here